Author Archives: clairegebben

Living in the past

me in 1890s garbThis photograph came to me via my father. About a dozen years ago, as he was sorting through his things in Cleveland, he’d mail off a new phase of my childhood to me in each of his letters.

Recently, this picture of me around eleven years old dressed for Halloween in a Victorian era dress and coat began to nag at my memory, so much so that I sat on a cold tile floor for some time flipping through old photo albums to find it.

Why? Because as I’m out and about on the book talk circuit, people often remark to me how amazed they are by the the hours of research I must have put into my book. Since I don’t feel as if I’ve done more research than anyone else who writes historical fiction, their comments have me wondering. And this picture glimmered into my memory.

The outfit I’m wearing belonged to my grandmother’s family. Her mother? Aunt? Great aunt? I’m just not sure. My grandmother was born in 1891, in the horse-and-buggy era. She never learned to drive a car, and now that I think about it, in spite of her modern surroundings — a neat little contemporary home in the suburbs — she never stopped living a late nineteenth century kind of life.

Often when I visited her (her house was on the same property as our family’s) she’d recreate those old times for me, sitting me down on the couch to leaf through old photo albums as she told me stories, or pulling out her box of hand-tatted lace, or letting me run my hands through her shoebox of old buttons. She was an excellent seamstress and taught me how to sew, how to save basting thread by wrapping it around a card, how to darn socks. I still have her darning eggs and needles and crochet hooks made of bone in my sewing basket. She had her own, quiet world, and invited me in whenever I had the patience to linger.

It’s a known fact that people were smaller back then. So at age eleven, when I needed a Halloween costume, I fit perfectly into these clothes, which my grandmother had saved in her cedar chest. I still remember the feel of that velvet winter coat with the elaborate cord clasps, the black dress underneath made of silk, the slip made of taffeta.

Of course wearing something so special did not change my eleven-year-old behavior. I dashed with my friends from house to house trick-or-treating, leaping over ditches and rustling through wet piles of leaves. The hem of the dress was soon shredded. The frail threads of the coat seams couldn’t hold under my childhood exuberance and pulled apart at the shoulders.

I marvel now at the uniqueness of my upbringing. Actually, I don’t believe it’s the research that’s so remarkable, but instead how, on my visits with my grandmother, she and I really were living in the past.

Spring in my step

Thanks to Susan Roberts of the San Francisco Book Review for another great review. Five stars! I’m feeling so blessed.



The Writing Process Blog Tour continues

Many thanks to Stephanie Barbé Hammer @ MAGICALLY REAL for inviting me to participate in the Writing Process Blog Tour! Stephanie has published three academic books, and writes and publishes magical realist short stories, expressionist short stories, and a very little bit of non-fiction. Her collection of prose poems Sex With Buildings was released by Dancing Girl Press. She is currently seeking publication for her novel The Puppet Turners of Narrow Interior and is writing a sequel. In her writing, Stephanie explores the power, beauty, and fascination that surrealism, expressionism, magical realism and the unreal exert over us and our attempts to (re)think our world. Stephanie’s poetry collection How Formal? is forthcoming in May with Spout Hill Press.

You can read Stephanie’s responses to the Writing Process questions here.

Below, you’ll find my responses to the Writing Process Blog Tour:

1. What am I working on?

My novel The Last of the Blacksmiths (Coffeetown Press) was released just a month ago, so lately, my writing has been mostly supplemental articles: about food and wine in the Pfalz, about my adventures learning to blacksmith, giving interviews, stuff related to the novel. With my German cousin, I’m also putting together some three dozen letters written by German immigrant blacksmiths and wagon-makers, a book mainly of historical and genealogical interest.

Happily, I’m at last easing into in the earliest phase of another historical fiction novel, the story of a Scottish immigrant to America in the 1800s. I’ve written an opening scene, and am starting the research to immerse myself in that mindset and world.

2. How does my work differ from others in its genre?

I have to admit, I’m a closet teacher. In my college days, my roommates nicknamed me “know it all” because I was always trying to tell them stuff I was learning about. I think my writing reflects that, my desire to share what I’m finding out, things that I think are intriguing and help me see my life and the world in clearer perspective. Some historical fiction shies away from being a “history lesson,” and I get that. But I guess I’m inclined to worry more about writing a story so it transcends the page, drawing on whatever it takes to build that world in the imagination.

3. Why do I write what I do?

I write because I can’t help it. Experience keeps forming itself to me in sentences I feel a need to write down. So I write across genres. The historical fiction novel is a first for me, but I loved doing it. I wrote it because I received a gift, authentic 19th century letters that told a story I longed to share. I’ve also written a young adult novel about a backpacking expedition (still in the drawer, unpublished) and short stories and personal essays. I’m a columnist these days for my local newspaper, and in addition to this author blog, I blog monthly about hair. I suppose I write about whatever entertains me, with the hope it will entertain others as well.

4. How does my writing process work?

When I’m working on a big project like a novel, I write just about every day, usually early in the morning. I tend to save new writing for the mornings and revise in the afternoons. Sometimes I can’t sleep, and then I get up in the middle of the night and jot down sentences as they come. The hardest thing for me is the blank page. Lots of people hate revision, but I love it. I love going deeper, bringing out themes and metaphors and ideas I didn’t see at first. That’s my favorite part.


Next week the Writing Process Blog Tour continues to branch out with two amazing story-tellers:

Stephanie Lile. Stephanie is a writer, teacher, exhibit developer, researcher, art lover and museum educator. She has written for magazines such as Columbia, Calliope, Bacopa, Soundings Review, The Morgan Horse, and ColumbiaKids. Her nonfiction book History Lab To Go! is an award-winning museum publication. Stephanie has launched a small studio that is the percolator for her publishing projects, as well as home to the KBL Family Collection of amazing WWII imagery. Currently, she is working on publication of her novel The Tail Gunner, about a ghost soldier of WWII who cannot rest until he’s completed his final mission, and his granddaughter Sylvie is just the one to help make that possible.

Steve W. White. Steve teaches math and science during the day and writes at night, mainly SF and fantasy. He’s indie-published three novels: Outrageous Fortunes: A Novel of Alternate Histories, New World: A Frontier Fantasy Novel and Read No Evil, and a collection of short stories: Turing’s Revenge and Other Stories. Lately, he’s earned a Fiction MFA from the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts on Whidbey Island, Washington. You’ll find his blog about writing at Novel Dog.

It’s a privilege

The Carriage Association of America is a terrific organization that puts out glossy, full-color publications, e-newsletters and more, keeping its membership informed and inspired by carriage history and restoration. It’s a privilege to be included in the March 2014 issue of The Carriage Journal alongside Dr. Thomas Kinney, author of The Carriage Trade. I’m doubly pleased to announce both books are carried in the CAA store along with a lot of other terrific, unique offerings. Purchases from their gift shop benefit this worthy organization. Special thanks to Jennifer Singleton for this great review.LOB Carriage Journal Review


Rite of Spring — Bockfest Cincinnati 2014

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Another first

With the publication of my debut novel The Last of the Blacksmiths, the “firsts” keep piling up. The first book deal, first book launch, first novel reviews, and now, a first radio interview! This afternoon at 4:00 p.m, I’ll be interviewed by host Ed Bremer on Everett’s “Sound Living,” KSER 90.7 radio.

Am I prepared? The novel took almost four years to write, so hopefully I’ll be able to answer a question or two. Since it’s radio, I won’t have to demonstrate how to shoe a horse or anything. Still, this being another first, it feels as challenging and daunting as all the others. I’m excited too–it should be fun. Listen in, if you get a chance, and wish me luck!


What a party!

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Now that I realize how fun a book launch party can be, I’ll be writing an entire shelf of novels. Thanks to all of my dear family, friends, colleagues, supporters, volunteers, and readers who turned out for this wonderful celebration.

The trailer

My nephew Nicholas Gebben put together an awesome book trailer for me. I hope you like it:

The Last of the Blacksmiths trailer

It’s here!

My novel The Last of the Blacksmiths has made it into the world, available at bookstores and online, in print and e-book. Right now there’s also a book give-away going on at, plus recipes for Pfalz good eating. Check it out!

Thanks to everyone who has encouraged and cheered me on this past four years. This feels wonderful.

Novel-writing grit

The Last of the Blacksmiths (Coffeetown Press, 2014)My book is out in stores and online. Reviews are starting to come in on GoodReads, at Morganti Writes and on Amazon.

My friend Jo said the nicest things on Facebook: “If you aren’t reading The Last of the Blacksmiths by new author, Claire Gebben, please put it on your must-read list. First of all, she takes care of the reader, offering that seated-by-the-fire-in-a-favorite-tattered-sweater kind of comfort. Second, the story is so beautifully crafted and descriptive, it reminds me of the days when families eagerly gathered in the living room around the radio on Sunday night, waiting for the next installment of a beloved program. Simply put, this is storytelling at its best. Bravo, Claire!”

Thanks, Jo! And Charlotte, and Kim! Last week, I wrote an article called Blacksmith Basics for the Sharing Stories segment of Northwest Prime Time. Writing the article, I recalled those demanding days of blacksmithing, the hammering and red-hot glowing metal, the grit and sore muscles. It occurred to me how the path to publication, the patience and endurance and faith required, is not such a far cry from the sweat and grit and discipline required to craft a useful, beautiful object out of metal.

When I think about it, that’s no doubt the case for all creative endeavors–if it’s not a challenge, it probably isn’t worth doing. And oh how grand it is to finally hold the book in my hands.